Open Loops

If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it must absolutely go off. — Anton Chekov

Let’s have some fun today. I’d like to share a “writer’s secret” that can create a sense of mystery for even the driest subject matter. This technique is called the “open loop.”

These days, everyone is all too familiar with open loop headlines—so familiar that they’ve come to be called “clickbait.” Here are a few examples from today’s edition of Buzzfeed, perhaps the most notorious practitioner of the open loop:

  • JK Rowling Just Gave the Best Advice Any Aspiring Writer Will Ever Receive
  • How Many Times Does Nicole Kidman Have to Prove Herself?
  • Tell Us How You Eat and We’ll Reveal Your Top Three Personality Traits

These headlines leave you with a question that demands to be answered, compelling you to click on the story to find out what the answer is. Since as B2B marketers we don’t have the luxury of wasting our customers’ time the way that Buzzfeed does, we need to more graceful in our use of the technique. Here’s how.

Start with the setup. Here is the opening of a trade article I wrote for one of my clients:

 Deep in the heart of a steaming jungle, a ramshackle mining town is full of dangers like mudslides, snakebites, and tropical diseases. Even getting here is an adventure that requires a small plane, a day spent navigating seething rivers, or a hair-raising 4×4 ride over ungraded roads. There are few comforts here and, apart from items in a small camp commissary, almost nothing to buy.

It may seem the most unlikely place on earth to uncover an elaborate fraud scheme.

Here’s another one from a case study I did, with the client info deleted since it was for internal company use only:

Like most [redacted] libraries, [redacted] County Library was hit with extensive budget cuts in 2010 as the shock waves of the financial crash hit county government. The question wasn’t whether the library budget would be slashed—it was where and how to absorb the cuts and still deliver services to customers.

As you can see, these openings set up a question, while still being completely professional. In fact, in a few sentences, you’ve told your readers about very difficult, challenging problems—presumably ones they can identify with. The idea is that your customers and prospects will read on to find out how it turned out. What was the fraud scheme and how was it uncovered? How did the library survive its budget cuts? By the end of your article, you’ve circled back around to close the loop, leading your reader to the conclusion of “Wow! If they could do it, so can I.”

Want to know more? Download my free guide, How to Cure the B2B Content Blahs. Besides the guide, you’ll be one of the first on the list to receive my free monthly newsletter (coming soon) with exclusive tips on how to use writing techniques to make sure your message is heard!

Today’s laugh:


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